Councillor looking to declare climate emergency in CK

Canada is warming up about twice as fast as the rest of the world. Apr 1, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Environment and Climate Change Canada)

If a local councillor passes a successful motion, the municipality of Chatham-Kent may soon be looking at a ‘strategic direction’ towards planning for climate change.

Ward 2 Councillor Trevor Thompson will be introducing a motion at the July 15 council meeting that “CK officially declare a climate emergency.”

Thompson is hoping to join several other cities and municipalities across the province, including Sarnia¬†and Ottawa, where a local climate emergency has already been declared by members of council. Climate change has also been addressed as a global problem. In March of this year, the United Nations declared that there are 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. For Thompson, the motion is about considering the impacts of climate change and what they mean for Chatham-Kent’s policy and planning decisions.

“I want to start using the environment as a lens to see how we can better plan for the future, how we can better protect our infrastructure for the future. How we build stronger, more resilient communities. That’s why I decided to work with a couple of members of the community and bring the motion forward,” explained Thompson. “We have strategic directions within the municipality. We just finished the strategic planning session with the new council, so I view it more towards that lens of everything we do, we need to take a look at how it’s going to affect and how it’s going to impact us down the road.”

Speaking passionately on the topic, Thompson told Blackburn News that living in South Kent, he sees day in and day out the damage that climate change has had locally, including constant road closures due to flooding. He also said he was shocked to see some of the results from a recent shoreline study done on the area, which revealed that Talbot Trail could be completely gone by the end of the century due to erosion.

“I want us to be considering how exactly we’re going to deal with these increased storms, increased lake levels and decreased lake levels as well,” he said.

According to Thompson, he’s already spoken to several community groups about the issues on hand and he expects to hear from several more during July’s council meetings. Although he said he’s heard from some people who believe that the motion has too much grey area, he said he knows the term ‘climate change’ means different things to different people and designed the motion to be open for interpretation.

“What the declaration means to each and every individual is entirely up to them,” said Thompson. “It could be, to be honest, a meaningless declaration that nobody puts any weight behind or it could really be a document that we look at and say ‘with every decision we make, how are we making our community more sustainable and more resilient to the effects of climate change?'”

Besides using his ward as an example, Thompson also mentioned communities such as Tilbury, where constant flooding has left residents frustrated and a master plan is currently being worked on to address storm sewer issues in the community.

“[The storm sewers] are far too small and can’t handle the storms we’re getting,” he said. “So when we go to build new storm sewers, we should be looking at, with the climate that we’re currently dealing with, the storms are getting more powerful, we should be building extra capacity.”

According to Thompson, he has heard support from fellow councillors who are on board with the motion. This wouldn’t be the first steps Chatham-Kent is taking to combat the effects of climate change. Earlier this year, a job posting went up for the role of an environmental planner with the municipality.

Although he stressed that declaring a climate emergency isn’t meant to be a fear-mongering tactic of any sort, he said residents and officials in Chatham-Kent can’t bury their heads in the sand on the matter.

“Really, what is the risk of admitting that flooding is an issue this year in Chatham-Kent and all of southwestern Ontario?” Thompson asked. “All the rain we’ve had this year has pushed farmers back, its caused unknown damage to the local economy.”

Thompson said that, if the motion passes, he hopes overall it will help the municipality be proactive and better prepared for the extremes of changing weather.

“We are not going to save the climate by doing something here in Chatham-Kent like turning off a light or buying a super fuel-efficient vehicle. We’re just not. But we’ve got to protect the residents that are here and I think, speaking to my fellow councillors, they all agree,” said Thompson. “We all have shoreline, we all have beaches and we all have residents that need help in protecting.”

-With files from Michael Hugall